Social Computing

Social Computing

Nolan Hemmatazad (University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch678
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Broadly speaking, social computing encapsulates the idea of making technologies more aware of, and more in alignment with, the social needs of their users. This allows for the introduction of new modes of communication and collaboration among users, the ability to establish and grow communities of various constitutions, as well as for more dynamic and large scale content creation, dissemination, and evaluation. This chapter serves the ternary purpose of establishing a broad definition of social computing as it stands today and as it is expected to evolve in the near future, providing an overview of the practical applications of social computing, and examining the present and historic research themes that have made an impression on social computing as an area of academic intrigue. The chapter is intended to be accessible to casual readers, practitioners, and academicians alike, with little technical depth and broad focus throughout, for the purpose of establishing an initial acquaintance with the field.
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Throughout the last few decades, computational technologies have grown increasingly more capable, useful, and connected at an exponential rate. However, while this general boon in computational power has occurred fairly recently, discussions relating to the ideas of interconnected computational systems and instantaneous, widespread information exchange began much earlier. As one example, we can look to the early efforts of Vannevar Bush, who helped facilitate cooperations between the United States government, business communities, and academicians for the advancement of military-centered scientific research initiatives. This formal cooperation would pave the way for later endeavors, such as the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, and subsequently DARPA) and ARPANET, a precursor to the modern Internet.

The real fruits of early theoretical and engineering groundwork such as this, however, would become apparent on a much larger scale beginning in the 1980's and throughout the early 1990's, a timeframe that marks the development of several early communications technologies, including Usenet (a decentralized system of distributed discussions), Internet Relay Chat (IRC; a real-time, multiparty text communication system), and the World Wide Web (WWW), which would set a new standard for the electronic presentation and dissemination of text and media contents.

Though some of the fundamental characteristics of social computing had already been cemented even within these early technologies — real-time user content distribution, for example, was a natural prerequisite of Internet-mediated chat — the Web and consumer technologies were still in their infancy. Technical limitations (such as a lack of bandwidth for widespread distribution of rich media, as well as limited processing power available to consumption devices), lack of user adoption, and delayed development of standards for how best to utilize new mediums for communication each constricted the advancement of more powerful social computing applications.

By the start of the new millennium, however, a movement known as “Web 2.0” was quickly gaining traction. The motivation behind this development was to acknowledge the evolving state of 1) consumer Web-enabled technologies, which boasted continuously increasing processing and display capabilities, 2) enhancements to the underlying network infrastructure which allowed for decreased latency and increased throughput of data transmissions across the internet, 3) more widespread adoption of Web technologies, and 4) increased user and developer activity surrounding collaborative and social technologies. As Fischer (2009) observed, this paradigm could be succinctly characterized by its objective of “fostering and supporting social production and mass engagement and collaboration”.

While the term (Web 2.0) itself may have been merely a label — considered little more than jargon even by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web (Laningham, 2006) — the notions it represented provided the foundation for social computing as we know it today. Through the course of just over a decade, the Web had gone from the nascent realization of a technical dream, to a medium where users could stay constantly connected via the exchange of text, images, audio, and video media, from the comfort of their home, or abroad with their mobile devices.

Today, social computing-related activities are among the most common uses of networked devices, and the evolution of mobile technologies has established social computing as an outstanding example of pervasive or ubiquitous computing technologies. In fact, recently the terms “pervasive social computing” (see, for example: Mokhtar and Capra, 2009) and “ubiquitous social computing” (for example: Motahari et al., 2007) have been coined to express exactly this dynamic, and to reflect the increasing prevalence of this relationship. Now more than ever, individuals are staying connected with one another via the use of social technologies, and new innovations are quickly being developed to help augment this pervasiveness and the facilitation of social interactions in new and imaginative ways.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Identity: How a user is perceived within a larger social community.

Collaborative Filtering System: A system which evaluates the historic activity of its users in order to make predictions about the preferences of those users or others who are, by some criteria, viewed as being similar to them.

Virality: The widespread propagation or adoption of new contents or services across an online community.

Check-In: A function for expressing a user's visiting of a physical location, or their participation in some event or occurrence, physical or otherwise.

Blog (Web Log): A medium for posting detailed text or rich media entries, often as part of a larger collection pertaining to some overarching subject or theme.

Social Network: A social computing application that allows users to establish friend or follower-type relationships with one another, and to exchange or broadcast text and rich media contents either directly or via aggregated timelines of activity.

Peer-to-Peer: A connection existing directly from one user to another, with no intermediary.

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